‘Tis the season to be jolly.
Keep that in mind when you check out my Hall of Fame ballot for the Class of 2022, my day after Christmas gift to baseball fans. Let me remind you this is my vote, not your vote. This was a vote earned by covering at least 10 years of Major League Baseball.
In my case, it was much more than 10 years.
All those thousands of games, all those thousands of interviews. All those flights and hotel nights, too. Yes, I am Lifetime Platinum in the Marriott program. If you travel, you understand.
It is an honor to take part in the @BBWAA voting for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, one of my favorite places on earth. I’ve been there many times — 25 Main Street — and I always find the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum a place of wonder from the moment I step inside the brick building and see the incredible wood sculpture of Babe Ruth by renowned artist Armand LaMontagne.
I once visited LeMontagne’s studio in Rhode Island — he also sculpted Ted Williams, Larry Bird and Bobby Orr — and that was quite the experience and The Story for another day.
Voting for the Hall of Fame is quite the experience too, it’s a privilege and the subject of The Story this Sunday.
So here I am, your Christmas piñata, courtesy of BallNine.
I’ve gotten to the point where you can’t just pick and choose your steroid users. Who knows for sure?
That is just the way it is when you announce your ballot, and no year, no season of HOF voting has been more “interesting’’ than this year. You can vote for as many as 10 players and I hit the limit because of the over-crowding of the ballot caused by The Troubles.
What exactly is The Troubles?
That’s the era when PED use was across the board in the game, MLB, minor leagues, college and high school, and it deeply affected the all-time statistics of the MLB game: i.e. Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs over his career and his single season mark of 73 home runs in 2001 at the tender age of 36.
Everything was turned upside down and here is what I have to say about steroids and PEDs, which I am totally against: players used them because they worked, it’s as simple as that. It was a plague on baseball for so many reasons as MLB turned a blind eye to the cheating.
And with former commissioner Bud Selig getting in the Hall of Fame thanks to the veterans committee – along with managers who benefitted from playing those roided-up players – where exactly do you draw the line?
Next on the list for home runs in a season behind Bonds, if you need a refresher, is Mark McGwire with 70 in 1998. Then comes Sammy Sosa with 66 in that same season, McGwire totaled 65 in 1999, then you have Sosa again with 64 in 2001, Sosa with 63 in 1999 and then you finally escape that tainted era with Roger Maris blasting 61 home runs 60 years ago in 1961. Then, No. 8 on the list, is the Great Bambino, Babe Ruth with his magical 60 home runs in 1927.
Babe, of course, held the title for most home runs in a career, 714, an iconic baseball number but Henry Aaron came along with his strong wrists and strong mind and eclipsed Ruth’s magic number with 755. Alex Rodriguez (everyone’s favorite) is fourth on the list with 696 home runs.
COOPERSTOWN, 1939: The first inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame pose for a group portrait in Cooperstown in July of 1939. They are: top row left to right Honus Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler, and Walter Johnson. Front row Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, and Cy Young. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
And so it goes. I was there for many of the home runs Bonds hit in 2001. It’s not like I could walk into the clubhouse and drug test Bonds and the other players. I’m not a scientist and players did not tell me what PEDs they were taking, but my eyes told me just by looking at all the bulging muscles in the game.
The Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa Great Home Run Chase was in 1998 and that was a pivotal year.
It was a weird time in baseball and Selig, all the GMs, the managers, and the owners let it all run amok. Now we are left to pick up the pieces. In past HOF votes, I did vote one time for Bonds and Roger Clemens, the two players on the ballot who came to represent the Steroid Era.
And let me tell you a story about that vote.
The following spring training, I was traveling around the camps in Florida as I usually do, sometimes Arizona too, but this happened in Florida. I will not tell you the camp or the HOF player, but the moment I walked into his team’s clubhouse the HOFer yelled out to me: “Kevin, how the bleep could you vote for those two guys?’’
So much for Hall of Famers not paying attention to who BBWAA voters put on their ballots.
A lively discussion ensued. That is what is great about baseball, lively discussions. You can call them arguments; I prefer to call them lively discussions.
After all, it’s not life or death, it’s baseball.
PHILADELPHIA - 1939: The first class elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown pose in Shibe Park during the 1939 season. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
So here we are again, this voting season for the Hall of Fame.
This is the final year on the ballot for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa.
Good riddance to Bonds and Clemens and their drama. After this vote, the writers can wash their hands of Bonds, Clemens and Sosa, who are at the center of the PEDs predicament. Schilling is a different case. I have consistently voted for Schilling because of his big-game pitching ability, much like Jack Morris, another guy for whom I would cast my HOF vote.
The ballot changes year to year. Different years, depending on particular circumstances of the ballot, things change as well.
And since this is the 10th and final year of Bonds and Clemens, I took all that into play – including why am I still standing on the Steroid Wall?
This was baseball’s problem; let baseball deal with it, so with that in mind much of my ballot is a Ballot of Baseball Rogues this year.
With apologies to Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men, I’m off the wall.
This final year I did vote for Bonds and Clemens, whose incredible numbers make them easy Hall of Famers if you go by the numbers and let’s face it: numbers rule baseball.
I’ve gotten to the point where you can’t just pick and choose your steroid users. Who knows for sure? And there is no doubt in my mind that there are already players in the Hall of Fame who used PEDs, who used steroids and since baseball didn’t really care enough to nip it in the bud, how in the world can baseball writers who have no power within the game — who make no decisions about how the game is played or ruled — how come it’s all on our voting shoulders?
So, I checked the boxes. Now I am done with Bonds and Clemens.
Kevin Kernan's 2022 Hall of Fame Ballot
This is Commissioner Rob Manfred’s problem now; and the players themselves… and the owners.
If I were in charge, serious testing would have been in the game right from the start of the big bodies, but I’m not in charge of anything. And if the players would have fought back against serious testing it would have been worth the fight for then Commissioner Bud Selig to take this one to the wall for the betterment of the game.
None of that happened, so we are stuck with The Troubles.
Selig is in the Hall of Fame, put there by that Veterans Committee, yet Bonds and Clemens are not.
This is where we are and this is the 10th season of Bonds and Clemens on the ballot. They are off the ballot next year, the rule was changed a while back to move the PED players through the system quicker, it used to be 15 years on the ballot.
They will then become the problem of the Veterans Committee.
But before we go any further let me tell you what I witnessed at the 2007 All-Star Game in San Francisco. The day before the game, interview sessions are held in a large ballroom. Each player has his own elevated station. Each team, AL and NL, gets its own session – back to back – so there is cross-over of All-Stars, a time for them to mingle.
I parked myself at the corner booth that was Barry Bonds’ throne to watch the entire experience that day. I was amazed how just about every player on the AL squad and the NL squad, at one point or another came by to pay homage to Bonds, who was in his 14th season and this All-Star Game was in his city. This was a coronation. I remember even NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who was doing some TV work, came by to basically worship at Bonds’ altar … like every ballplayer that came past Bonds’ station.
Players know the ins and outs of the game and these All-Stars did not seem bothered one bit by Barry Bonds’ big head, big muscles, and big home run power at an advanced age. It appeared to me that in their world, only the results mattered.
Keep that in mind.
Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. (USATI)
Oh, by the way: you know who was the leading fan vote-getter in that All-Star game? A guy named Alex Rodriguez with 3,890,515 votes, easily out-distancing his Yankees teammate future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter by over 700,000 votes – and nearly a million more votes than the NL leader, future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.
Okay, so back to the list: here are my 10 selections these year in ballot order: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and to close, Billy Wagner. There are a good number of suspected PED players on there and certainly Sosa is a controversial selection – but by the numbers you cannot pretend his home runs didn’t happen – and I was there in ’98 too when McGwire and Sosa kind of saved baseball.
Sosa’s 66 home runs in 1998 is third all time for a single season. He is ninth all time with 609 home runs.
So, yes, I offer you a rogue’s gallery of selections this year with the likes of Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Ramirez, Ortiz and of course, the suspended one, A-Rod.
I am not going to get into every detail of suspicious actions, leave that to others.
Here’s what I do know.
As for Big Papi, he was a difference maker in so many ways, just ask the 2004 Yankees, and by the way, I was there for that ALCS when Ortiz put the Red Sox on his back when they were down 0-3 and led the greatest series comeback in baseball history. That counts for something, too.
April 29, 2016 - Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz celebrates his two-run home run against the New York Yankees during the eighth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, in Boston. (Credit: Elise Amendola / AP)
Like I said, with apologies to A Few Good Men, I’m off the wall. The HOF character clause was not important enough for MLB to take real action while all this was going on, so here we are in this mess with the HOF ballot. I’m done playing amateur PED detective.
As for my other picks, I’ve gone with Jeff Kent before, I think 354 home runs, the most by a second baseman, is HOF worthy. More third basemen should be in the HOF and Scott Rolen is a worthy candidate, especially considering some veteran committee HOF additions. Wagner has incredible numbers, including his 11.92 strikeout/9 innings pitched ratio and opponent’s .187 batting average.
There are some players I wish I could have added, but I ran out of room. I believe Gary Sheffield is a Hall of Famer. He has two more years after this, and I will vote for him each year going forward. In his era, in his prime, Shef was one of the most feared hitters in the game. He is 26th all-time in home runs with 509. Todd Helton was also a near miss for me this year.
If Bonds and Clemens did not go down the path they went down, they would have been named Hall of Famers years earlier even though they would not have these gaudy numbers. Those numbers came with a HOF price. I don’t think either one will get the 75 percent needed for election this year, but maybe I’m wrong.
Again, this is an election and each person is allowed to vote the way that person prefers to vote. It’s still America.
That’s how it works. All the writers I know put a lot of thought into their votes. You could argue they overthink it but that’s fine. This year I made it simple on myself: In a game of numbers, numbers ruled.
I guess you could say my ballot this year is kind of like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.
As Linus said of that scrawny tree as he wrapped his blanket around the fragile trunk: “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.’’